Mel Kiper Jr.: ‘No top-10 receiver right now’ in 2023 draft

At 3-8 with Justin Fields establishing himself as a quarterback to build around, the Bears will have options to provide Fields some needed help — a receiver or lineman in particular. If they stay at their current No. 3 spot, “trading down might be their best option.”

SHARE Mel Kiper Jr.: ‘No top-10 receiver right now’ in 2023 draft
Texas Christian’s Quentin Johnston (1) is expected to be one of the top wide receivers available in next year’s NFL draft.

Texas Christian’s Quentin Johnston (1) is expected to be one of the top wide receivers available in next year’s NFL draft.

Stephen Spillman/AP

If you think the Bears’ 2022 season is about developing quarterback Justin Fields while still losing enough games to get a top-five draft pick to acquire a difference-making receiver — like Ja’Marr Chase for Joe Burrow in Cincinnati or Jaylen Waddle for Tua Tagovailoa in Miami — then the rebuild appears to be on schedule.

Fields, after a rough first month, has taken small steps as a passer and giant leaps as a runner to establish himself as a quarterback to build around. And the 3-8 Bears currently have the No. 3 pick in the 2023 draft — a spot they can maintain regardless of Fields’ playing status in the remaining seven games.

But timing, as they say, is everything.

“If Marvin Harrison Jr. were in this draft, he would be the Bears’ pick at No. 3,” said Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN’s long-time draft analyst. “Marvin Harrison Jr. will be where Larry Fitzgerald, Keyshawn Johnson, Irving Fryar [were], all those elite guys who were in line to be the No. 1 pick overall. But unfortunately, he’s not in this draft.”

The 6-4, 205-pound Harrison, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison, is having a breakout sophomore season at Ohio State: 65 receptions for 1,037 yards (16.0 average) and 11 touchdowns in 11 games, with highlight-reel catches almost weekly. But he’s not eligible for the draft until 2024.

“There’s no top-10 receiver right now,” Kiper said. “Maybe Jordan Addison at USC. Maybe Quentin Johnston at TCU. Josh Downs at North Carolina. Jaxon Smith-Njigba [of Ohio State] would have been in the top 10, but he’s been hurt. The guy I really like is Zay Flowers from Boston College. He’s the most underrated receiver in this draft.”

At this point, the draft is not loaded with sure things at the top. Kiper, in fact, said there are four players not eligible for this draft who would be the top four picks: North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, USC quarterback Caleb Williams, LSU linebacker Harold Perkins and Harrison.

There’s still a long way to go. But as it stands now, a prime scenario for the Bears would be to get a top-three pick with quarterbacks Bryce Young of Alabama, C.J. Stroud of Ohio State and Will Levis of Kentucky still in demand.

“Trading down and letting somebody get that third quarterback is always [a possibility] — you can get a lot in return,” Kiper said. “You’re not going to get a receiver there. There’s no offensive lineman to take at [No. 3]. There’s nobody on the offensive side of the ball to take at 3 other than a quarterback.”

Northwestern tackle Peter Skoronski is the top-rated lineman (and “a damn good tackle,” Kiper said) but not quite a top-five pick. Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson’s stock has dropped slightly during a good-but-not-great season. Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, a fit at three-technique, has passed Anderson as the best defensive player in the draft, Kiper said.

At this point, all factors are fluid, from the Bears staying in the top three or top five to the “big board” changing through big college games and the draft process. But with Fields emerging and the Bears at 3-8, the draft picture is starting to come together.

“Trading that pick and moving down might be the best option,” Kiper said.

2. Regardless of where the Bears draft, a wide receiver will be high on their list. But, as Kiper noted, “History has told us you can get great receivers down line.”

Indeed. Only one of the top 10 wide receivers in yards this season was taken with a top-10 pick: Waddle at No. 6. The other nine were the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill (165), the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson (22), the Bills’ Stefon Diggs (146), the Raiders’ Davante Adams (53), the Rams’ Cooper Kupp (69), the Commanders’ Terry McLaurin (76), the Eagles’ A.J. Brown (51), the Saints’ Chris Olave (11) and the Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb (17).

3. Coaches love to dismiss hypotheticals, so Bears coach Matt Eberflus’ endorsement of backup Trevor Siemian as a potential replacement for Fields on Monday sure seemed to indicate the Bears won’t take any chances and will rest Fields (shoulder) against the Jets — and perhaps longer.

It would be a prudent move. The Jets’ defense is tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks with 32, including 17 in the last three games. The Jets also have 81 quarterback hits this season, second-most in the NFL.

Even if Fields misses two games, he’ll get three weeks of rest (including the bye) and will still play 15 games this season — plenty of opportunity to progress toward 2023.

4. Same Old Song Dept.: If Siemian starts against the Jets as expected, it would be the Bears’ seventh change of starting quarterback in the last two seasons and 89th in the last 30 seasons.

Only four Bears quarterbacks have started every game of a season in the last 40 years: Jay Cutler (2009), Rex Grossman (2006), Erik Kramer (1995) and Jim Harbaugh (1991). Harbaugh started 27 consecutive games in 1991-93, the longest streak for a Bears quarterback since Bob Avellini (41) in 1976-78.

5. Building an offense in Chicago is never easy. In a span of five weeks, the Bears went from not having enough designed runs for Fields to having too many. Maybe offensive coordinator Luke Getsy should have run for mayor while he had the chance.

6. Bad News Dept.: The Bears had no sacks against the Falcons and have just four in their last five games, with none by a defensive lineman. The last defensive lineman to get a sack was Al-Quadin Muhammad against the Commanders in Week 6.

The Bears have been credited with just 31 quarterback hits this season, fewest in the NFL. Every other team has 40 or more. The league average is 57.5.

7. Good News Dept.: The Bears are in the top 10 in the NFL (with big jumps from 2021) in some key categories that most bad Bears teams usually are near the bottom in: rushing (from 14th to first, 197.9 yards), rushing yards per attempt (21st to first, 5.4 yards), third-down conversions (32nd to sixth, 45.6%), takeaways (26th to eighth, 15), turnover differential (29th to eighth, plus-1) and red-zone touchdown percentage (30th to ninth, 60%). Even in scoring average, the Bears have improved from 27th last season to 17th (21.9 points).

8. Quentin Johnston Watch: The 6-4, 215-pound TCU junior had four catches for 48 yards in the first half against Baylor before being sidelined by a nagging ankle injury. Johnston has 49 receptions for 764 yards (15.6 average) and five touchdowns this season for the Horned Frogs (11-0).

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Running back/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown in the Falcons’ 27-24 win over the Bears. It was the ninth kickoff-return touchdown of his career, breaking a tie with Leon Washington and Josh Cribbs for the NFL record.

It was also Patterson’s third kickoff-return touchdown against the Bears. He previously had a 105-yard return with the Vikings in 2013 and a 95-yard return with the Patriots in 2018. Patterson also had two touchdowns on kickoff returns for the Bears — a 102-yard return against the Saints in 2019 and a 104-yard return against the Vikings in 2020.

10. Bear-ometer: 4-13 — at Jets (L); vs. Packers (L); vs. Eagles (L); vs. Bills (L); at Lions (W); vs. Vikings (L).

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